The Sydney Theatre Company’s staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, directed by Kip Williams, is centred around a large rock set on a revolving mechanism that assists with scene changes and helps to animate this rather static play about characters shipwrecked on a tropical island. The rock is reminiscent of the story of Prometheus, chained forever to a large rock by Zeus, but this is the ‘hard rock’ to which Caliban (the only character native to the island) is banished by the lordly Prospero, which reminds us that the island (and perhaps even the play) is Caliban’s domain.
Richard Roxburgh appears immediately as Prospero – more a wizardly Obi-Wan Kenobi with his cloak and sabre ‘stick’ than any scraggly-bearded (Tom Hanks-style) castaway that might be conjured for this shipwrecked Duke of Milan. Wielding this smooth white lance as his wand, Prospero stirs up a tempest that cracks, rumbles, and flashes with deft cinematic ferocity (speakers shaking the floor beneath our feet), a thrilling effect managed by the director and technicians (Jacob Nash’s set design, Nick Schlieper’s lighting, and Stefan Gregory’s). Thankfully, Williams does not permit the tempest to drown out Shakespeare’s opening lines. With the actors all being miked, we can still discern Shakespeare’s clever lines as the King of Naples (Mandy McElhinney) and his attendants are shipwrecked and marooned upon the island, thus falling prey to the controlling machinations of Prospero’s merciful revenge.